A RUSSIAN FLAG AT PRAGUE CASTLE?
Jiri and Leni Friedman Valenta
Published by the Russian International Affairs Council, January 22, 2018
A slightly different version of this article was published by the Gatestone Institute on January 23, 2018 as "The American Stake in the Czech Election."
The significance of an upcoming, run-off, presidential election in Czech Republic is largely underestimated in Washington. But its prevalent view of it as a not too significant event in a small European country is dead wrong!
Contenders include the sitting president, outspoken, and politically incorrect Milos Zeman, who garnered 39% of the vote in the first of a two-phase election. His rival is chemist Jiri Drahos, the correct, low key, former president of the Czech Academy Science, who won 27%. A tight race is expected next week.
In America, Zeman’s foes are led by the late Vaclav Havel’s friend Madeleine Albright, together with President Barack Obama’s State Department holdovers. They yearn for Zeman’s defeat at they do for President Donald Trump’s, whom Zeman in some ways resembles.
As with Trump, one of key issues is whether Zeman is pro-Russian as maintained by his foes in U.S and Czech media. Yet even more crucial is Zeman’s hard line on Muslim immigration. He adamantly refuses to obey the European Union Muslim immigration quotas, even in the face of EU lawsuits.
A bit of Czech history is in order here. Curiously, the Prague events in last century on dates ending in the number 8, have often witnessed developments with major implications. In 1918, the founding of democratic Czechoslovakia by exiled Czech politician Tomas Masaryk intensified the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In 1938, British and French appeasement of Adolf Hitler at Munich and the Nazi occupation of the Czech Sudetenland adumbrated the outbreak of World War II a year later. In 1948 a Communist coup in still democratic Prague was a key impetus for the creation of NATO a year later.
In 1968 the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. aimed at quelling the infectious Prague Spring, became in the words of my mentor, Josef Korbel (Madeleine Albright’s father), “the inextinguishable spark” for future democratic revolutions. That happened in 1989 as playwright Vaclav Havel, “an outstanding dissident,” in Zeman’s words, became president of a new, democratic Czech Republic.
This is 2018. Is change again in the wind? Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, opposing Brussels’ dictates along with Zeman, thinks so. “Europeans have a clear will. They don’t want to live under the threat of terrorism, they want their borders to be protected ... I believe 2018 will be the year of the restoration of the will of the people of Europe.”
As for the widely bruited charge that he is pro-Russian: In 1968, this writer, a former classmate of Zeman’s in the Prague School of Economics, together defended the Prague reforms before hostile academic audiences in Leningrad and Moscow just weeks before the Soviet invasion. Expelled from the Communist Party, for his opposition to the Soviets, Zeman was also thrice in two decades fired from his job. In contrast, his opponent in the run-off, Drahos, repeatedly traveled to West under the watchful supervision of the Czech secret police.
Thus, it is comical and disturbing is to see the mainstream media cast the Zeman-Drahos struggle as a choice of whether Prague will “lean east or west.” A January 14 The New York Times article even cited a political observer’s Kafkaesque absurdity that if Zeman is reelected he’ll be “flying a Russian flag from Prague Castle.”
While Havel used to belittle the concept of national interest, Zeman, an economist, favors good relations with Russia because geo-economics requires this. The Czech Republic still depends on the Kremlin’s energy resources and trade, leading Zeman to remain neutral in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Yet, he is serious about fulfilling the required Czech contribution to NATO.
Zeman has been vehement in his support of Israel. He compared Arafat to Hitler. He launched yearly meetings of the Israeli and Czech cabinets. He supported Trump’s decision to move the U.S.to Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu singled him out as “the best friend Israel has in Europe.”
Zeman’s defeat would deprive Europe of a powerful voice against anti-Semitism and of Islamo-fascism. Drahos, an inexperienced leader, is more likely to be malleable to Brussels’s demands on accepting quotas on Muslim immigration. The result of the Czech vote will reverberate through Europe.
Consequently, Zeman’s reelection is in America’s national interest.
Trump Should Aid Czech President Zeman in Fighting the “Munich Attitude”
Jiri Valenta and Leni Friedman Valenta
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 694, December 20, 2017
A Czech translation is below English version.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: In a December 6, 2016 telephone conversation, then President-Elect Donald Trump and Czech President Milos Zeman agreed to meet in April 2017 – but the visit appears to have been indefinitely postponed. This is unwise. Zeman, like Trump, is a staunch supporter of Israel, opposes Europe’s “Munich attitude” of appeasement, and is a foe of Islamic terrorists. He should be treated by the White House as the ally he is.
The sidelining of President Trump’s planned meeting with Czech President Milos Zeman suggests a lack of awareness among Trump’s NSC aides regarding the unique triangular relationship connecting America, Israel, and the Czech Republic. They do not appear to have considered the potential benefits of a closer relationship between Trump and Zeman, who are like-minded and misunderstood. “Israel has no better friend in Europe than the Czech Republic,” said Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in 2014.
At that time, Milos Zeman, as Czech president, was already at the forefront of the struggle against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. A year earlier, President Barak Obama had ignored his own red lines in Syria. His doctrine of “strategic patience” aided in the survival of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s oppressive regime and effectively assisted Vladimir Putin’s interventions in Ukraine at a time when Islamist terrorism was on the march in Afghanistan, Libya, South Yemen, and Syria.
Zeman, who has expressed the view that “Obama’s policy destroyed practically all the Middle East’s structures and countries,” also rejected Obama’s mistreatment of Israel and its declining Western European support at the UN. As Francine Klagsbrun pointed out in Lioness, Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel, Meir’s reference to the “Munich attitude” referred to the 1938 Munich sellout of Czechoslovakia to Hitler by British Premier Neville Chamberlain and French leader Eduard Daladier – but it also referenced the EU sellout of Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and European leaders’ animus towards Israel in the decades that followed. In 2017,
Zeman was the only EU leader to applaud the Trump administration’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, going so far as to call the other EU leaders “cowards.” Yet the Czech president has neither been invited to the White House nor visited by Trump in Prague. This suggests that Trump’s NSC is not aware of who Zeman is or what he can offer. In the Czech Republic, the presidency is a largely ceremonial office. Yet as Commander-in-Chief of the Czech armed forces, Zeman has taken on an unusually active role in foreign policy-making with regard to Central Europe and the Middle East. A riveting, tell-it-like-it-is speaker, he earned from one interviewer the comment, “The president no longer pushes the limits; he exceeds them.”
Unlike the iconic, late President Vaclav Havel, whose eloquence, good manners, and international fame as a playwright appealed to urbanites, the self-made economist Zeman is the darling of the Czech countryside for his politically incorrect plain speaking. Like former liberal Democrat and centrist Trump, former Social Democrat Zeman has been unjustly pelted with ad hominem attacks as a purported far rightist. This is largely because of his uncompromising attitude regarding Islamic terrorism and insistence on the strict vetting of Middle Eastern immigrants to his country. He believes those immigrants cannot be “assimilated.”
An admirer of Winston Churchill, Zeman views Islamic terrorists as the modern incarnation of the Nazis who once tyrannized continental Europe. To him, Europe is under the same kind of threat that Churchill warned against in the late 1930s after Hitler rose to power. At that time, Churchill was laughed at and scorned in Parliament – the same Parliament near which murders were committed by Islamist terrorists in 2017. Like Trump, Zeman wonders when “old Europe,” led by misguided Chancellor Angela Merkel, will wake up. Germany, France, Britain, Spain, and Belgium are now terrorized by Muslim immigrants and by Muslims born in Europe who have since turned into Islamist terrorists.
Zeman has been accused by US State Department foes and Havel supporters of being a pro-Russia stooge. This is as false an accusation as it is with regard to Trump. While Trump has reached out to Moscow to pursue a limited partnership in the fight against jihadists in Syria and in dealing with rogue regimes in North Korea and Iran, Zeman, a trained economist, favors good relations with Russia because of geo-economic realities. Zeman recognizes his country’s dependence on the Kremlin’s energy resources and trade. Just a few weeks ago, he led a delegation of 150 Czech businessmen to Russia (versus a delegation of a few dozen to France earlier this year, a comparison that reflects economic realities).
Though some of Zeman’s comments on the resolution of the Ukraine conflict have been simplistic, he fully recognizes that NATO members must discourage Russian aggression. That is why he has made it a national priority to 1) reverse a decrease in defense spending for NATO that resulted from the 2005 economic crisis; and 2) restore the 2% GDP contribution for NATO required by Trump. Another priority for Zeman is his unswerving support of Israel. During his 2014 trip to that country, the Czech president was praised by Israeli leaders for his opposition to the aggressive intentions of the Iranian regime and his blacklisting of the military wing of the terrorist organization Hezbollah.
There is a longstanding bond between Israel, the Czech Republic, and America. Modern Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918 by Tomas Masaryk, a young professor-turned member of the Austrian parliament. A strategic ally of President Woodrow Wilson during WWI, Masaryk’s Czechoslovak Legion bravely fought Lenin’s Bolsheviks. Then, through his own formidable lobbying in Washington and aided by Jewish writers who remembered his struggle against anti-Semitism, he was able to create an independent and democratic Czechoslovakia from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (The country was divided in 1992 into separate Czech and Slovak nations.) Masaryk supported the World Zionist Organization’s congresses in Prague and Karlovy Vary [Carlsbad], and in 1927, he became the first European leader to visit Mandatory Palestine. Subsequently, streets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and even a kibbutz were named after him.
After Hitler came to power in 1933, Czechoslovakia became a democratic oasis for anti-fascist refugees and Jews from Germany. However, in Munich in 1938, Britain and France ceded a part of democratic Czechoslovakia to Hitler without Czech consent. The betrayal of Czechoslovakia – Mrs. Meir’s "Munich attitude" – resulted in a bitter historical lesson on appeasement, and not only for the Czechs. Three decades after Masaryk’s lobbying in America, Meir lobbied for the creation of another free new nation: Israel. President Harry Truman recognized the new state of Israel in May 1948, as did Josef Stalin. However, the US State Department and British Foreign Office not only declined to follow suit but placed an embargo on the shipment of weapons to Israel, endangering its survival.
Czechoslovakia, with Stalin’s blessing but without Kremlin involvement, launched a rescue mission in cooperation with the Haganah. Breaking with the arms embargo, Czechoslovakia became the only country to sell Israel dozens of fighter planes in addition to other military equipment. Czech pilots provided training to Jewish young men from Mandatory Palestine, the US, and elsewhere.
Sadly, the evil of Stalinist, anti-Semitic communism reemerged in Prague. The KGB helped to organize murders and show trials of Czech leaders supportive of Israel, their agonies foreshadowed in Franz Kafka’s The Trial. By the mid-1960s, however, Czech politics began to mirror the democratic reform forces at play. What was missing was what Lenin referred to as an iskra [spark]. In June 1967, the Six-Day War provided that spark for Czech students and intellectuals. The Israeli victory had a direct bearing on the radicalization of many Czechs towards the democratic reforms of the Prague Spring. Hundreds of Czechoslovak students, including Zeman, applauded the advance of Israeli tanks to the Suez Canal. To these students, the defeat of the Arabs with their Soviet weapons and advisors meant a defeat of the Soviet empire.
In May and June 1968, during a sharing of ideas with students and faculty at universities in Leningrad and Moscow, Zeman – who is fluent in Russian – led his classmates' efforts to convince the Russian interlocutors to support Prague’s democratic reforms, an effort that infuriated KGB “observers.”
In August 1968 came the Soviet invasion. As a young member of the Communist Party’s reform wing, Zeman tried to organize an anti-Soviet “resistance. In 1970 he was expelled from the Party, by then overseen once again by Soviet advisers, as a “traitor.” Hardly the history of a Russian stooge. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, European NATO countries displayed a “Munich attitude” towards Israel. USAF planes bringing military supplies to Israel were not permitted to refuel on the continent, with only Portugal allowing them to land on the Azores.
In the summer of 1989, Zeman published a devastating exposé of the Czech communist economy, and in November, playwright-dissident-president Vaclav Havel led a “Velvet Revolution” that navigated his country’s return to genuine democracy. He also restored friendly relations with Israel. In January 2013, Zeman became the first elected president of the Czech Republic; his two predecessors, Havel and Vaclav Klaus, were elected by parliament. Zeman then defined Czech national interests by reinforcing the country’s close relationship with America, though he did not blindly follow Washington as Havel sometimes had (in the case of the 2003 Iraq invasion, for example).
In 2015, Zeman decided to attend the May 9 parade in Moscow celebrating Russia’s WWII victory over Nazi Germany. Calling Zeman’s decision “short-sighted” in a TV debate, US ambassador to Prague Andrew Schapiro, a major donor to Obama, advised Zeman that it would be “awkward” if he were the only EU statesman not to follow the Brussels decision to boycott the celebration in support of EU sanctions on Russia. Zeman did not appreciate Schapiro’s remarks. As he explained, he couldn’t “imagine the Czech ambassador in Washington giving advice to an American president about where to travel."
Unlike Havel, who likely would have followed the EU lead and the advice of the US ambassador, Zeman behaved like the president of a sovereign state. He did not mind joining Putin in celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany, the evil that Czechs, Americans, Jews, and Russians had fought together. Yet he denounced as an insult the publication of an offensive article at Russia’s Zvezda state channel, holding that the Czechs should be grateful for the 1968 Soviet invasion. Again – this is no Kremlin stooge.
If Trump is given a truthful narrative about Zeman, he will see that the Czech president has become the spokesman for a
“new Europe”: Hungary, Poland, and the new government in Austria, which rejects mass Muslim immigration. Zeman could lead the effort for these nations to become close friends of Israel, as he himself has done. Trump has been neglecting a courageous ally, Israel’s best friend in Europe, and a man who – like himself – continues to fight the “Munich attitude” of appeasing rather than fighting Islamic terrorism. He would be well advised to remedy this lapse.
. BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family
Trump by měl napravit své pochybení
6.prosince 2016 se v telefonickém hovoru nově zvolený prezident USA Donald Trump a prezident České republiky Miloš Zeman dohodli na setkání v dubnu 2017, ale - jak to vypadá – návštěva byla odložena na neurčito.
To rozumné není. Zeman stejně jako Trump je věrný přívrženec Izraele, je proti “mnichovskému přístupu” usmiřování pomocí ústupků a je nepřítelem islámských teroristů. Bílý Dům by ho měl považovat za spojence.
Upozadění plánovaného setkání s českým prezidentem Milošem Zemanem svědčí o nedostatku povědomí mezi Trumpovým NSC (Rada národní bezpečnosti) o unikátním trojstranném vztahu, který spojuje Ameriku, Izrael a Českou reoubliku. Nezdá se, že by zvážili možné výhody užšího vztahu mezi Trumpem a Zemanem, kteří jsou podobně smýšlející .
“Izrael nemá lepšího přítele v Evropě než jakým je Česká republika” řekl Izraelský ministerský přededa Benjamin Netanjahu v roce 2014. V té době byl již český prezident Miloš Zeman na předním místě v boji proti IS v Sýrii a Iráku. O rok dříve, prezident Barack Obama ignoroval svoje vlastní “nepřekročitelné hranice”. Jeho doktrína “strategické trpělivosti” napomohla přežití syrského diktátora Bašára Asada a jeho represivního režimu a v podstatě pomohla intervenci Vladimíra Putina na Ukrajině v době, kdy islamistický terorismus už byl na pochodu v Afghanistánu, Libyi, Jižním Jemenu a v Sýrii.
Zeman vyjádřil názor, že “Obamova politika zničila prakticky všechny struktury a země Středního Východu. Zeman take odmítl Obamovo špatné zacházení s Izraelem. Francine Klagsbrunová upozornila v článku “Lvice, Golda Meirová a izraelský národ” na odkaz Meirové na “mnichovský odkaz” – mnichovský výprodej Československa Hitlerovi provedený Neville Chamberlainem a francouzským lídrem Eduardem Daladierem. Ale take upozornila na EU výprodej Izraele během Jomkipurské války v roce 1973 a na nepřátelství evropských vůdců vůči Izraeli v následujících dekádách.
V roce 2017 byl Zeman jediný šéf státu EU, který schvaloval rozhodnutí Trumpovy administrativy přeložit americké velvyslanectví z Tel Avivu do Jeruzaléma. Zašel tak daleko, že nazval ostatní vůdce EU za “zbabělce”. A přesto český prezident nebyl pozván do Bílého Domu nebo nebyl Trumpem navštíven v Praze. To naznačuje, že Trumpova NSC si není vědoma, kdo Zeman je a co může nabídnout.
V České republice je funkce prezidenta převážně ceremoniální. Avšak jako hlavní velitel české armády, Zeman převzal neobvykle aktivní roli v zahraniční politice, pokud jde o střední Evropu a Střední Východ. Od jednoho tazatele si vysloužil výrok “prezident už neposunuje limity, překračuje je”.
Na rozdíl od ikonického, zemřelého prezidenta Václava Havla, jehož řečnická působivost, dobré způsoby a mezinárodní věhlas jako dramatika se zamlouvaly obyvatelům měst, samorostlý ekonom Zeman je miláčkem českého venkova pro svůj nekorektní, prostý, jasný, srozumitelný jazyk. Stejně jako bývalý liberální demokrat a centristický Trump, bývalý sociální demokrat Zeman byl nespravedlivě zasypáván útoky, které ho označovaly jako krajního pravičáka. To vše pro jeho nekompromisní postoj k islíámskému terorismu a trvání na přísném prověřování imigrantů ze Středního Východu. Domnívá se že tito imigranti nemohou být “asimilováni” do našeho prostředí. Jako obdivovatel Winstona Churchilla vidí islámské teroristy jako moderní inkarnaci nacistů, kteří dříve tyranizovali kontinentální Evropu. Pro něho je Evropa ve stavu stejného nebezpečí, před kterým Winston Churchill varoval na konci třicátých let, poté co se dostal Hitler k moci. V té době se Churchilovi v parlamentu vysmívali a pohrdali jím, v tomtéž parlamentu, kde byly spáchány vraždy islámskými teroristy v roce 2017.
Stejně jako Trump, Zeman je zvědav, kdy se “stará Evropa” vedená pošetilou kancléřkou Angelou Merkelovou, probudí. Německo, Francie, Británie, Španělsko a Belgie jsou nyní terorizovány muslimskými imigranty a muslimy narozenými v Evropě, z kterých se stali islamističtí teroristé.
Nepřátelé Zemana na ministerstvu zahraničí USA a přívrženci Havla, tvrdí, že je proruská loutka. To je nepravdivé obvinění stejně jako u Trumpa. Zatím Trump oslovil Moskvu, když usiloval o limitované partnerství pro boj s džihadisty v Sýrii a s nebezpečnými režimy v Severní Koreji a Iránu. Zeman je kvalifikovaný ekonom a preferuje dobré vztahy s Ruskem jako geopolitickou realitu.
Zeman uznává závislost své země na energetických zdrojích Kremlu a na vzájemném obchodu. Před několika týdny vedl delegaci 150 českých podnikatelů a obchodníků do Ruska (oproti tomu delegace do Francie na začátku tohoto roku se účastnilo jenom několik desítek podnikatelů a obchodníků) .
Ačkoliv některé komentáře Zemana k řešení ukrajinské krize byly příliš zjednodušující, prezident Zeman plně uznává, že státy NATO musí Rusko odrazovat od agrese. Proto take označil za národní priority:
1/ zvrátit snížení rozpočtu na obranu pro NATO. které vyplynulo z ekonomické krize z roku 2005;
2/ znonuobnovit 2 % HDP příspěvek pro NATO, tak jak to vyžaduje Trump.
Další prioritou prezidenta Zemana je jeho pevná podpora Izraele. Během jeho návštěvy této země v roce 2014 ho izraelští představitelé chválili za jeho pozici agresivním úmyslům Iránu a podporu zařazení militantního křídla teroristického Hizballáhu na černou listinu.
FEBRUARY 25 --THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF CZECHOSLOVAK 1948 COMMUNIST COUP
Jiri Valenta, with Leni Valenta, February 24, 2018
Published in Czech by the newspaper, Parliamentnlisty. See url below to read it in Czech.
How did this Bolshevik coup happen to the democratic country founded by Tomas Masaryk in 1918?
At the end of WWI, a hundred thousand Czechs and Slovaks, originally POW’s in Russia, led by the new president of Czechoslovskia, Thomas Masaryk, helped to change European history. With the help of America, they aided in the overthrow of the Austro-Hugarian Empire, and almost overthrew the emerging Bolshevik rule. With the aid of the Czech Legion’s success in Russia, Masaryk became a friend of Woodrow Wilson and founded a new republic, Czechoslovakia, modeled on the ideas of the American revolution.
Sadly in the next several decades the fighting spirit of the Czech Legion fell into oblivion and was replaced by what I call the national disease of Broucekism, e.g. forgoing the use of violence against foreign and domestic enemies in defense of their democratic republic. Both foreign invasions, the Nazi one of 1938 and the Soviets in 1968, are good demonstrations of it. So is the discussed subject, the 1948 communist coup. The spirit of democratic aanti-Bolshevism gave up to Broucekism, e.g. strong words spoken in restaurants and bolstered by alcohol against foreign occupiers and their domestic helpers -- but accommodation of totalitarian rule.
How did it happen? The destiny of the Czech nation lies in the question, are they going to overcome the
'phenomenon of Broucekism?
The following is an interview of Dr. Jiri Valenta by Jonas Kriz and published in a Czech translation in the
newspaper, Parliamentnlisty, February 25, 2018.
Jonas: In the Czech environment the 1948 coup d’état is usually perceived as representing a conflict between Clement Gottwald and the democrats. How are the events of the February 1948 coup understood from the geopolitical point of view?
Jiri: There has been a fundamental scholarly error in interpretation of the 1948 coup. Geopolitics was at play but it was secondary. There were some Russian maneuvers at the borders, but the key factors were at home, due to the phenomenon I call Broucekism.
By that I refer to the character of Mr. Broucek, created by the Czech writer, Svatopluk Cech; a petty bourgeoisie middle class man who gets regularly drunk in aPrague restaurant, likes good food, talks about heroism, but is basically a coward, unwilling to sacrifice for his comrades-in-arms who might have helped him. Selfish and corrupt, he is unwilling to fight for his country.
Another key factor was that Masaryk, the spirit of anti-communism was dead, replaced by a new leader, president Eduard Benes, himself the chief of Broucekism. After WWII, for three years the Czechs had a coalition government consisting of both communists and social democrats as well as real democrats. True, since the summer of 1947, Russia put the Czechs under pressure not to accept the Marshal plan. Instead, they would compensate the Czechs. But Russia did not dictate the composition of the government or the mechanics or dynamics of the coup. It was conducted by Czech communists with the support of some leftist social democrats, not the Soviet military or KGB.
Jonas: Could it be that Czechoslovakia had been recognized by the global superpowers as a part of Soviet geopolitical block/ sphere of influence even before the communist coup took place?
Not exactly. Czechoslovakia was liberated by both the Russians Americans, although the American part was much smaller. The understanding was that the country would be friendly and allied with Russia, but would preserve a democratic system. It is easy to blame the Russians. Yet, Gottwald was angry at the visit of Russian Ambassador Valerian Zorin when the coup began, and asked “What is he doing here?”
True, earlier interpretations pushed forward by the democratic leaders who lost and Cold Warrior scholars. was to make Russia primarily responsible for the coup. But it was by and large a native coup with some indirect help from Russia.
The crucial factor was the brilliant planning, organizing and execution of the coup by Rudolf Slansky, the General Secretary of the Communist Party (more important than Gottwald in the coup) and Bedrich Geminder, head of the Secretariat. They organized a paramilitary People’s Militia that was used as coercive force without actual shooting.
A second crucial factor was the terrible strategic mistakes of the democratic ministers. At play was the Broucek phenomenon.
Among the mistakes were the protest resignations of many democratic ministers. Had they not resigned, the communists would have had to use force and the public would have been aroused. They could have tried to mobilize loyal army commanders and Sokol [members of Czech sports organization]. But with the help of the Broucekism that already emerged during the Nazi occupation, they gave up without a fight!
Jonas: According to my information, Czechoslovakia was the sole and only country of the former eastern bloc without the Soviet military presence since the 2nd world war had ended. In all the other countries (Poland, Hungary) the Red Army had liberated during the war, the Soviet soldiers were present right after the fall of the Nazis. How was this this accomplished? Was this a kind of privilege granted to Czechoslovakia on behalf of the Soviets?
JIRI: Czechoslovakia did have a special status. The government was led by the PM Clement Gottwald, but half the ministers were communists and leftists (social democrats) and half were true democrats. There was a special equilibrium between them. It’s true that since the summer of 1947, Russia, resisting the Marshal Plan , put the Czechs under pressure as they did Poles and Finns, not to accept it. But Russia did not dictate the composition of the new government. The coup was conducted by the Czech communists not the Soviets.
Jonas: Was Gottwald under political pressure to let the Soviet soldiers into the country?
JIRI: There were no Russian soldiers involved with the coup. The effort was made to make this a native coup done by parliamentarian means and with no Russian involvement.
Jonas: The former US diplomat/ ambassador who was present in Czechoslovakia during the time the events of the communist coup were taking place, was Laurence Steinhardt. How did he reflect on the Coup? What was his reaction?
JIRI: Steinhardt’s role was rather minimal. I think he was surprised by the bold and brilliant plans of the communists to exploit the weakness of the democrats and change the government without violent means.
Jonas: The Cold War was in effect since 1946. The Western powers perceived the Soviet Union as an enemy even before the year 1947 and before the communist coup in Czechoslovakia happened. Brought the 1948 February Coup any change in the way the western countries such as USA, GB and even others, viewed Czechoslovakia? In which direction?
JIRI: There were differences among the Western Powers as memoirs of their leaders demonstrate. Some became Cold Warriors in 1946, others in ‘47, and yet others after the coup. A turning point was the meeting of the Cominform in the fall of 1947, where the Czechs were criticized for using a parliamentarian way towards socialism. But the communist coup had a tremendous impact on all leaders of the Western world. Within a year, because of the coup and the Berlin crisis, NATO was created to prevent other coups and Soviet political pressures they had exercised upon West Berlin. The creation of NATO helped to save the rest of Europe and was one of the best things America ever did.
Jonas: Are you familiar with any specific plans that had been made or projected on the part of the diplomatic/ intelligence community to pull Czechoslovakia out from the Soviet field of interest/ influence?
JIRI: NATO accepted Czechoslovakia as a member of the Russian alliance and in 1968, when it came to the Czechs fighting against Byzantine Russian socialism, President Lyndon Johnson, eager to make a deal with the Russians on SALT, could care less about the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion. In Prague, the spirit of Masaryk anti-Bolshevism again gave up to Broucekism. The lesson? Small nations have to reject Broucekism and rely on their own inner strength to challenge aggression. The Finns did it in the 1948Winter War. They nipped in the bud the coup d’etat prepared by the Finnish communist party. The Russians knew if they invaded Finland, the Finns would fight and it would be very expensive for them.
Jonas: What was President Benes’s role in all of this? Petr Pitthart in his current interview for Czech daily Aktualne presents an opinion that the Czech public is still “too soft” on Benes in this respect. I mean in respect to his actions regarding the 1948 Coup in Czechoslovakia.
JIRI: I agree with Pitthart. President Benes was not President Masaryk. Had Masaryk been able to govern, he would have ordered armed resistance against the communists. Personality matters. Benes, the Broucek chieftain, twice gave up the Masaryk spirit in 1938 and 1948. Excuses are made by his supporters that he was sick, but what they don’t say is that he was also blackmailed by Russian KGB officials who arrived on a train on the 25th of Februrary.
It is often mentined that the Czechs have the spirit of Jan Hus, fighting for their beliefs by letting themselves be burned at the stake. Two students incinerated themselves in protest against the Soviet occupation in 1969. Many of the Czechs are also guided by the spirit of the “Good Soldier Shweik,” the man who uses all tricks to survive, but doesn’t fight for Czech interests against the occupiers.
What is forgotten is the spirit of Broucekism, that I found unfortunately among some leaders of the Charter 77 dissident movement. They used to drink beers with the STB officials who followed them, while praising the philosopher Patocka. Some suffered and went to jail, like my hero Vaclav Havel. But there were others who were sleeping with the wives of those who went to jail. I got to know some of them very well and called them “Mr. Brouceks.”
Jonas: Are you familiar with any specific plans that had been made or projected on the part of the diplomatic/ intelligence community to pull Czechoslovakia out from the Soviet field of interest/influence?
JIRI: No. The only chance was if the Czech politicians and people demonstrated what the Czech Legion did in 1920 -- fight the Bolsheviks. Curiously the Legion of 1918-20 showed that the Czechs and Slovaks are willing and able to fight in foreign countries for Czech national interests, but not in defense of their homeland. They failed in 1938, 1948 and 1968.